COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) Northwestern and Maryland have followed similar paths to this point in the football season.
Where they go from here could well be determined by the result of their first-ever meeting on Saturday.
The Wildcats (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) and Terrapins (3-2, 1-1) were feeling pretty good about themselves until last week, when each learned how they stack up against the upper echelon of the conference.
The answer: Not well.
Northwestern lost at home to Penn State 31-7 and Maryland was outclassed in a 62-14 rout at Ohio State.
”There’s definitely parallels there,” Terps coach DJ Durkin said.
So now, it’s bounce-back time for two teams at a pivotal juncture of the schedule.
”Northwestern is a very good team. We’re a very good team, too,” Maryland running back Jake Funk said. ”It’s a big game for us in terms of bowl eligibility.”
Northwestern went 2-1 against non-conference foes before opening in the Big Ten with a credible showing in a 33-24 loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 30. Then last week happened.
Maryland followed an uplifting win at Minnesota by falling flat at Ohio State.
”We lost touch in that game pretty quickly,” Durkin said. ”I’m looking forward to see how our guys respond.”
Some things to know about the first football game between Northwestern and Maryland:
RETURN TO ROOTS: Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald had his first coaching job at Maryland in 1998 as a defensive graduate assistant. ”Little bit of a homecoming for me, being a former Terrapin,” Fitzgerald said. ”Started my coaching career there under Ron Vanderlinden.”
Fitzgerald follows Maryland closely, and not just because it’s a Big Ten foe.
”I was really fired up for DJ when he got the job. I’ve known him for a number of years,” he said. ”I know quite a few of his staff members, and to see the type of program they’ve built a short amount of time has been really impressive.”
FISHER OUT: Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting last week. The call came when Fisher popped Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. Fisher led with his helmet, which came in contact with McSorley’s helmet.
”He’ll be missed,” Northwestern linebacker Brett Walsh said of Fisher. ”We’ll be all right, but it will be nice to have him back in the second half.”
Fisher leads the Wildcats with 43 tackles.
QUARTERBACK QUANDRY: Max Bortenschlager will start at quarterback for Maryland if he’s recovered from a helmet-to-helmet hit at Ohio State.
Bortenschlager left the game after the third-quarter play and did not return. Durkin said he would monitor the quarterback’s health and make a decision close to game time.
Bortenschlager is Maryland’s third quarterback this season after Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill sustained season-ending knee injuries. Caleb Henderson will start if Bortenschlager can’t play.
NO OFFENSE: The Wildcats managed only a fourth-quarter touchdown and had three turnovers last week. ”Our offense has to stop shooting itself in the foot,” receiver Flynn Nagel said.
Maryland could muster only 66 yards against Ohio State. ”A lot of things happened in that game that culminated in obviously a lackluster performance,” Durkin said.
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